tv Tavis Smiley PBS February 14, 2013 12:00am-12:30am PST
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with tony-nominated actor josh gad. he now serves as creator and star of the series "1600 penn," a comedic look at the first family. we are glad you can join us for our conversation with josh gad, coming up right now. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out.
>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: josh gad got a tony nomination, and he is now the star of the commonly "1600 penn," and here is a scene from "1600 penn." >> hi. what if i told you i found a way to combine one of my great passions with an employment opportunity? >> just make sure you thought it
through. >> i am going off script now. you know i have got the skills. you have always said, "do what you love, and the money will follow." >> that is not the case with magic. >> what is that? i believe this is yours, sir. do you not want to ask how i did that? tavis: is the obama era at the right time -- i am not making judgment one way or another, but is this the right time for this type of sitcom? >> interestingly enough, the obama administration invited us to screen it. we got their blessing. ironically, the obama speech writer is our head writer, and so i think so. but the interesting thing about it, it is not necessarily a show about politics. it is a show about a family with
the backup of politics. tavis: it is the white house. before i go further, i was asking off-camera because your name is so unusual, not that smiley is that common, or tavis. >> well, josh is short for joshua, and gad is short for gad. gad is one of the tribes of israel, you can trace them back, so i come from very famous lineage. granted, and they do not have cameras back then, so they did not have television shows, but it was more about their contribution to biblical stories.
tavis: what about that? >> it gets you into bars, some extra poll. -- pull. tavis: does it work with the ladies? >> i cannot tell you. i am marriage, but off the record, yes. tavis: "the book of mormon" was huge. >> it was. i was involved with "the book of mormon," and i got a phone call, and bobby lopez said, "i am doing something with the guys from "south park," and do you want to do it?" and i said yes. i remember listening and calling my agent after an saying, "i cannot do this." and he said, "why?"
and i said, "i do not want to be shot? " i remember the rehearsal, 100 people, and i remember thinking, god, i hope this works, and people went with it. they went with it because at its core, it was doing some very dangerous things, but it was doing it so brilliantly, and it was in a masterful way, and i never looked back since. tavis: artists even have to process things through a serious prism. what was the takeaway, as a writer and artist, what was it to make that work, to pull that off when you were skittish about it to -- from the beginning? >> my beginning, the perception, it was that this was born to be something that young people,
people of my age, friends of ," would get, and i remember thinking that right through the first preview, and then i remembered seeing something unusual happened. we started seeing 80-year-olds and 90-year-olds and jewish people and other stating up and applauding. tavis: and the mormons loved it. >> i have heard people say that because of our show, they converted to the mormon church. i have wanted to write them back and say, "i think you misunderstood our message." you cannot doubt the appeal of taking risks from a comedic standpoint.
i have had a chance now to work with jon stewart and parker. these guys are master sadr's -- satirists. it is one of the greatest things you can do in the field, and you cannot be afraid to take the leap. tavis: do you have fears about whether you will know where that line is when you get to it? >> i absolutely fear i do not know where that line is, and that is why i am not writing the next musical as religion. you do have a grasp. there were things up until the very last performance i was wondering if we were pushing it. they believed themselves.
tavis: what did that experience a to you about the way, i try to find the right word, view, hold, about the the notion of religion, because it is the most sacred on the one hand and then among the most controversial topics in the nation. >> it is. i am spiritual by nature. tavis: yes, you are from one of those tribes. >> yes. it is in my dna. you have seen the show. yes, it appeals to an agnostic or an atheist sensibility, but it also truly delivers a message of spirituality, and it delivers on the promise of what religion can do, right? here are these people who absolutely have no reason to
have faith. they are people at their lowest. and when these missionaries, and give them something to believe in, even if it is outside of the realm of normal, even if it is a little crazy and comes from a lie, which it does, inevitably, in our story, it still gives them something to grasp. it still gives them hope. that message, i think, is a universally appealing message. it is something we all struggle with. we all grapple with this idea of losing people who are important to us, of seeing tragedies happen day in and day out and say to themselves, in a world where there is a god, how is this possible? and yet, when we have that thing, when we have that thing to grasp onto, it somehow gives us the strength to get through a
tough time to answer those questions. it allows us to laugh at that, but inevitably, i believe that is the question. tavis: you said you got letters from people, and you had said they had missed the point. was the mail that you received or the conversations that you found yourself in that you really wrestled with proof that you wrestled with how to respond it -- respond to it? it made you expand your assumptions? i am trying to figure out on a serious side what you were dealing with. >> coincidentally, i never got a negative piece of mail. tavis: not one. come no, josh. you did not read it. >> i remember we had a conversation about security and a conversation about how to respond to those things.
people interested. it is very strange. in 450 performances, i saw maybe half of one dozen people walk out of the theater. it is a very unique thing. tavis: stop, stop, stop. when you are on stage, and you can see people walking out of the theater, that i have had this experience giving lections before -- giving lectures before. i can tell when someone is going to the bathroom. when they are going to the bathroom, or a baby is crying, that is one thing, but you can tell the body language when they are walking out that they are not happy with this presentation. before you go forward as an actor, on broadway, and you see that, how do you process that and stay on to? >> sometimes you do not.
this couple got up, and it was the second to last saw where they were like, no, now i draw the line. two o'clock -- two hours into it. "i will not stay for the finality." shame on you. i remember that they took the program, and they slammed it. they stormed out, and i remember literally for getting my next line because i was keeling over, laughing at the fact that even their statement of discussed backfired. and i think that is like it. the others, they took joy in that type of response, because that is dialogue. that is creating a dialogue, that action.
it was one of those theaters that was small enough where i could literally look out in the audience and see bono, who i actually sing about in the show, and george lucas. it was very surreal. tavis: cutting you off about whether or not you ever got any negative mail, asking about whether or not this made you come to terms in a serious way with issues x, y, and z. >> the process was a three-year, four-year process, where it made me struggle. the biggest question that i have, to be honest, was a centralization of, oh, man, what is my take on religion? i am very adamant about my take on religion. i am not smart enough to know
what my take is, but i believe in a higher power. what i question what allows me to go out and make fun of another person's idea of religion? once i found that answer, it allowed me to go out there and believe enough in the project and the process to accept what my role was. tavis: situate this for me in the context of this play in the era of ann romney building up for his run for the white house. >> yes. i remember leading up to it, romney was not even a figure in politics that was -- i guess he had made that run in 2008, but it was not one of those things where he was the front runner. we had not even gotten to that stage yet when i opened in 2010.
but i remember a "newsweek" audible coming up talking about "the year of the mormon," and it had romney' s base on it. i remember wondering if we had somehow manifested this reality, or is it: it's the adults that all of these things are converging at once and this truly is the mormon moment. i question that a little bit because it was strange. it is rare that any pop cultural event will have such crossover appeal that book of mormon had. it is even stranger that a musical, seen by 1100 people per night, gets that type of appeal. for me, it was one of those wow moments, where this was bigger than any of us thought it would be. i do not think it influenced the
election in any way, and i do not think it influenced people's decision to make mitt romney their candidate, if that is what you're asking. i do think it was just one of those strange, you know, situations. tavis: back now to "1600 penn," you are the guy behind the project. how did you know that this was the right vehicle, to do the sitcom thing? >> i did not know. i had sat down with jason winer, a mastermind behind "modern family." i just i would ride on his coat tails. then we had a discussion about what is the next thing you want to do. i had said i was interested in doing a show about an ordinary family in the most extraordinary bubble anywhere, the white
house, and he said that that might interest them, and i also said i was not interested in starring in it. we sat down, and we had gotten this kid, jon lovett, and when i saw the development of the script, i thought, if i see anyone else play this, i am going to be -- i knew inherently that it spoke to my sensibilities and that it was something that i could kill, but i did not necessarily want to dive back into the schedule, and i certainly did not want to do something so similar to the last role that i played. tavis: explain to us what it means when you say "my comedic." >> somewhere between this a real, taking this year real --
between the surreal, taking the surreal -- tavis: you get compared to a lot of those that died. john candy. >> yes, i get compared to a lot of the dead. it is a struggle i have had. i was once in a diner in big bear, and a waitress came up to me and said, "i know i know you from somewhere." and i always know that is not the right way to start a conversation with me. and she said, "i know that i know you. where do i know you from?" and she said -- and i said, "you know me from "animal house.""
and she said, "the guy from "animal house" is here." tavis: that is everybody's dream, to get younger and never die. seriously though, how do you process the comparison to a guy like belushi? >> i took a lot of joy in the comparison to belushi. there is a big dilemma. melissa mccarthy just opened this new movie, and no credit, rex reed, wrote a scathing comments on her weight. i think this is one of the last frontiers of bullying.
i do not know what the right ism for that is, but i think there is a level of that that is happening that is certainly not ok, and i went back and i read a review that he wrote of me, and i never read reviews, but i wanted to read his take on me, and he called me obscenely obese and something else. if you want to comment on a person's race that way or to comment on someone's sexuality that way, it would not be ok, and i struggled with the idea that it is ok to comment on that as an access point for criticism. i think bullying in print like that is a very dangerous thing. tavis: i am glad you went there, and i do not disagree with you, but i went to press two buttons. mccarthy is an actress.
chris christie wants to be president one day, maybe, and the health of the president is very serious. so where is the line -- we will come back to the entertainment critics and rex reed in a moment. i am a broadcaster. for journalists and broadcasters, where is the line for us to treat his weight? >> if it is a health issue, and -- tavis: he says it is not. eating doughnuts. >> if you have not read, he is a balding man. -- a balsy man. i am not asking to leave you. i am not asking in any way for you to trust me enough to help you or your family. what i am offering are my services to make you laugh or to making think. i do not see the relation there.
you have a choice whether or not you want to watch me based on your own preferences. if i am too big, literally, physically, for you, then you have the option to tune out. to view my weight as the overriding factor for my form of entertainment is, i think, and unfair prison with which to judge me. tavis: why did you stop reading critics? >> there was a time that i started to read the reviews because i am an executive producer, and i wanted to see what people are enjoying an not enjoying as a means to an end. there is an overriding meredith there, and i can help guide the series in a certain way, but when it comes down to me and people personally judging me, there is just no need for me to read it.
i do not really care what a guy getting paid to judge me thinks. i care if people who are watching, all of the tweaks, what the masses think. tavis: everyday people. >> yes. but i think a lot of critics and a lot of people in that field have an ax to grind. and there is nothing helsing about engaging or acknowledging that criticism of me. i cannot help you. i can only give you what i know how to give you. tavis: i did do this for hours. i enjoy talking to you. and there iseist, something that came with them, which asks me if there is something you want to do with this gift that you have. >> i appreciate your thinking of it as a gift. i think of it as a curse. what do i want to do?
i want to contribute to the ages, right? i think what we try to do, all of us as artists, it is made that one piece of difference that for me were movies like the great dictator. for me, the iconic songs from the 1960's. for me, it it is the book of mormon. i think that has made a difference in its field. it changed the game. it is something that 30 years from now, people, hopefully, will still be talking about. that is my goal as an artist, a creator, a work for hire, is to choose projects that make people think, make people talk, and make people interested in having a dialogue. tavis: well, they are talking now about "1600 penn," and it
stars one josh gad, from the tribe of gad. >> you are on the air tribe of smiley. tavis: yes, i am. you will be back? >> i will as long as your people and my people were an out. tavis: thanks for watching. until next time, keep the faith. today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. conversation with a legendary musician, eric burdon. that is next time. we will see you then. >> there is a saying that dr.
king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. xstrat >> be more. >> be more.